"Fully Equipped" - Pentecost 14B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
August 26, 2018 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
John 6:53-69
Subject
Pentecost 14B
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: August 26, 2018 – Pentecost 14B

Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:53-69

 

Fully Equipped

 

            Last month marked the 20th anniversary of my trip to Philmont Scout Ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. For ten days, we went on a backpacking trek through beautiful, yet challenging wilderness. But before we set out on our journey, we spent a night at base camp to get acquainted with Philmont’s history, our route, and especially the equipment we would need to take.

 

            We brought most of our own equipment, of course. We had clothing, sleeping bags, and other personal items (Fun fact: Philmont still recommends bringing only three pairs of underwear along for a ten-day trip!). But much of that equipment came in suitcases and duffel bags, and those don’t travel well on one’s back! We needed backpacks, camp stoves, tents, rations, cookware, and of course, a map and compass. Without these vital pieces of equipment, we would never make the trip.

 

            And the Philmont trip was plenty challenging even with everything we had. I was twenty years younger and forty pounds lighter, but I still remember how incredibly difficult the first few days were. Without good leaders and sheer will, I’m not sure we would have made it the whole way.

 

            The Christian life has a lot of similarities to a long backpacking trip. There are beautiful vistas and long, dark valleys. There are days when the road seems easy and Jesus is right beside you. And then there are days you feel alone, on top of the hillside while the rain beats down on you and lightning flashes several yards away. On such a journey, we need the right equipment. The big difference between a backpacking trip and the Christian life is that we need equipment that can fend off an active enemy, an enemy who would do anything to dissuade us from our journey.

 

            At the end of Ephesians, that is precisely what Paul tells his hearers. And indeed, the equipment that Paul describes is much more militaristic than simple backpacking equipment. The equipment that Paul describes is the “full armor of God”, likened after the equipment of the Roman soldier. The belt of truth, the breastplate of justice, comfortable shoes for spreading the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. All this equipment is metaphorical, but it is utterly vital to our journey. After all, we’re not defending ourselves against human beings, but against the forces of evil, which are not fleshly in nature. Evil acts through human beings (including ourselves), but the enemy we are equipping ourselves against is not a flesh-and-blood enemy. It can’t be fought with ordinary weapons. And this place – this assembly, on Sunday morning – is the primary place where we are equipped. When we hear the Word of God, when we sing, when we hear the words of forgiveness pronounced, when we pray for each other, when we come together as a community of faith, we receive this armor that defends us and equips us to live out the Christian life.

 

              Except, Paul doesn’t mention one thing. One more thing is absolutely necessary. Soldiers require rations. Without food, no amount of armor will do us any good. What we also require is the bread of life – Jesus Christ.

 

            It’s a bit odd to preach about Jesus as the bread of life on a non-Communion Sunday. But nevertheless, we need to receive him regularly in both the Word and in Communion. Twenty centuries later, Jesus’ words about eating him still sound distasteful and shocking, but they are no less true. Why do we need to receive Jesus regularly? Because it is when we receive him that we remain in him and he remains in us. The Greek word meno is usually translated “remain” or “abide”. It appears frequently in John’s Gospel. Jesus is always talking about either us remaining in him or him remaining in us. Why does Jesus talk so much about “remaining”? Because when we receive God’s gifts in Jesus, the bread of life, his strength becomes our strength. His life becomes our life. He makes his home, along with his Father and the Spirit, within us. He remains in us and we in him. This manna we receive gives us the strength we need for the journey. This manna enables us to wield the armor we need and contest evil wherever we find it. This manna is Jesus himself, found in, with, and under bread and wine. The body of Christ on the altar is food for the body of Christ. For you and for me.

 

            Jesus’ words are too much for many of his disciples. After hearing this, they excommunicate themselves. But Jesus isn’t here for “church growth”. Jesus is here to testify to the truth. Jesus is here to tell us that he has come into to the world to save it. For its sake, he will be lifted up on the cross. John, chapter 6, is fascinating for so many reasons. It begins with Jesus feeding five thousand and almost being made king by force, and it ends with desertion by nearly everyone because he explained the point of that miracle – that he himself is the bread of life. From five thousand plus, only twelve remain.

 

            But from these twelve (plus several highly influential women) the Jesus movement spread throughout the world. These twelve remained with Jesus, and Jesus remained with them. Jesus, likewise, also remains in us today, and we remain in him. He remains with us to guide us along our journey, so that we will be people who know how to travel together. Who know how to forgive one another. Who keep themselves within the community of faith. He is the one who fully equips us for this Christian life, both with the armor of God, and with his own body and blood. He is the one who loves us so much that he gives himself to be our bread so that we can endure to the end.  

 

           

© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.